30 October, 2007

Home at Last – Social Euphoria

I made it…and just in time. I had about 2 hours to get ready for the rehearsal dinner. But first. . .

I found a marina; I left the next day. I flew to Seoul. 13 hour layover. Flew SeoulAtlanta, 15 hours. Many movies watched. On the flight from Atl – Columbia I sat behind my friend, eye doctor, and relative, Bud Hopkins. When I arrived I initially declined his kind offer for a ride home, then finding that my driver’s license was still safely aboard Araby, I gladly accepted, being now impossible to rent a car.

The rehearsal dinner was, bar-none, the most fun I’ve ever had socially. . . big party social anyway. It’s hard to beat a small dinner gathering with great friends, but this, a large collection of friends, many I hadn’t seen since highschool . . . wow. It was more intense than I could have imagined. I was more moved with each person, and so filled with joy to see so many loved people all together, all so happy. It was a special experience for me. And I had two nights of it. I even met some amazing people whom I hope to maintain contact with.

Least I forget the dancing. Awesome. So much and so much was great. A good friend of Charlie’s, Christine Murray, was Phenominal. Bliss. I have to tell her so. I will never forget. But I could list more… (Sally….Sutton….) I have missed it so much. Dancing is as good ‘a reason to date someone as any.

But that is over. Must move on and there is where I hit a snag. What was it I hoped to accomplish while home?? I need to sort of my mind once more, now that I am well rested for the first time in two months.

What a ride! What a fall!

22 October, 2007

Land of the Rising Sun

The Land of the Rising Sun:

3500 miles to windward– the whale song - typhoon fear and preparedness – the trap: a trick of current and wind – a highway of freight – phosphorescence in a gale – a fisherman's first words -Nagoya, the maze – coast guard, cameras, and a tow to Yokkaichi – Isewan: the end-of-the-road-marina – tea at the dock - Customs delivers – the sush - destruction of Herb, the windvane – the tears of Kato - resurrection of Herb, the windvane, and its ascension problems with the LP – a tow from Hamano and friends - Osaka bound - damned fishermen - damned freight - damned calms and current - monster jellyfish – gale - near death by collision - anchorage of a hundred barges - Osaka.

Sometimes ignorance only becomes obvious when it is overcome.

My faults now lay bare.

Little of the sailing I have done thus far prepared me for sailing in Japan. In fact, much of it gave me long habits unfit and unsafe for these waters. Everything is different except the principles and basic elements.

Do I exaggerate? Perhaps—but this is how it feels. What remains sacrosanct, and what has seen me this far, are still—Constant Vigilance, Prudence and Patience.

I've logged many miles this year and most of them upwind. This has worn on Araby a bit, and it was the last leg where I started seeing a few failures, many like the death of the VHF and the depth sounder—both are near the companionway and I feel the salt water got the best of them.

But these are things I've taken for granted, even scoffed at. I rarely use the VHF, but here in ports like Nagoya and Osaka—how do you find customs or immigration?? It is a zoo. In Nagoya I simply anchored behind the breakwater and waited for someone to come by, as the coast guard eventually did, and explained my radio was out and I had no engine—not that I knew where to go. They brought customs and immigration to me, and free of charge. This would never happen many other places. I laughed as each of them took photos of me and Araby—the perfect stereotype of the Japanese. They also explained that there were no marinas in Nagoya, that I'd have to go one city over, Yokkaichi, and they'd be happy to tow me there as there were shoals in route and they were worried for me not being familiar with the area.

And, indeed, not having a depth sounder, I was vulnerable. I've always known the depth. I took it for granted. The water is no longer crystal clear—you can't simply look down and know where the bottom is. You have to use the chart, know your position, and, like the old timers, use the lead line. (a knotted line with a bit of lead to weigh it down. When it reaches bottom you pull it up counting the knots to learn the depth.) But as a single-hander, I wait until I drop the hook for this one, so to figure scope of chain.

But it is disconcerting. And I have a friend who has never had depth sounder. He says he knows it's shallow when the centerboard bonks the bottom.

But these were failures, things that broke. This happens and is to be expected. However, there were other problems that were resultant of poor planning and lack of experience—things that shouldn't happen. Of course, I didn't plan on coming to Japan, this is my defense of the fact that I have no paper charts and no tidal data. I am safe in my backup—in that I have all the world's charts stored on my computer, but I use this information for planning, not navigation usually.

Being forced to navigate in this way I found to be unseamanlike in the foremost. I would draw sketches of Nagoya bay and harbor and use these sketches to navigate, having my waypoints marked upon them and the hazards and such.

What a fiasco, but it was fun and I've grown fond of my little yellow pictures.

And it worked well, mind you, very well, but only because my routes were rather straight forward. It was time consuming and I had had no alternatives. But never again. I would have been better served getting charts in advance in Guam .

It turns out that the cape that I have now been around twice (only once with success) is considered by some to be the most dangerous and difficult water in Japan.

Another thing I have taken for granted is the information in cruising guides. Since I've always had them, I had no idea how invaluable they were. Coming here, having no one to talk to, to ask "which bay is good, what town convenient?" has been such a frustration. I am blind. And strangely, no one in Japan speaks English. I thought it was widely spoken here, but not the spots I've been thus far. I have not met ONE person whom speaks respectable English. Nor I have I seen ONE white person. This is no exaggeration. Not ONE! It is like being in another world.

Information on sailing here has been hard to find. Only today, on making Osaka, have I at least procured charts, but I'm not sure if I will find much as far as a cruising pilot (guide)—certainly not in English. My trusty cruising community is 2000 miles to the south.

The last thing I have neglected is a bit of information that I have not needed to reference in a long time. It is information that is not noticed until it is needed, and then of great importance to safety. I am talking about Tide Tables and Current Table—those hallowed references!

I didn't have this information, did not realize how important it could be—I just hadn't thought about it in so long—but not again. I have a new list of things I will always have before venturing forth anywhere: charts, pilots, tides. These three sources of data are fundamental to the safety of the sailor and should be available to him. Like his anchor.


Why this long tirade on these things? . . . because it has been a very educational few weeks. It has been challenging, rewarding, new and refreshing, frustrating. I am twice the sailor I was when I left Vanuatu a few months ago. I have seen things I hope to never see again, and I have received some of the finest hospitality of my life. Everything has been polarities. Calms and storms.

Araby has sailed wonderfully, but it was patience that saw me through. The wind was ever on my nose, always. We'd be beating against a fierce current off a cape and then the wind would die, meaning that we would drift back all the miles we had fought so hard to earn. But so it was and there was nothing to do about it. Thus is life.

The evening I entered Osaka bay and was about 15 miles from port, the wind once again came ahead and started blowing a gale and raining. What to do? I could beat in, but what was the point? I hove-to, got some rest, drifted south, and set sail the next morning and made port with a calm head and fair skies.

And it was a good thing to. I had the nearest call I've ever had—and dare ever hope to have—with a small ship (150') crossing from my blind side. I was making through an anchorage of tankers, so I was particularly wary that traffic couldn't give way because of restricted maneuverability. I had prudence enough, that when the wind dropped a bit, I raised my jib. I didn't need more speed, but I felt I could sail more defensively—being able to tack more readily. And so it was, when I was shaking out a reef I saw a ship just off my port bow, and boy was it bearing down—right there on top of me. I couldn't believe it. I ran aft, thought about my knife, but then opted to untie the windvane lines—I had that much time at least. But she was just six boat lengths off. I brought Araby around hard, yelled some mild profanity, which I was close enough for them to hear. I sat in complete disbelief.

They must not have seen me. Why no horn?? Who can say? I would have been at fault because of the anchorage area, but it is everyone's responsibility to avoid collision however possible, and he had plenty of room to spare. No horn! And I hadn't seen them!

It was a terrible thing, and just four miles from my destination. I laughed—the hardest bit is always at the end. I had to give way once more before dropping my hook. My anchorage is much like my last passages—few of nothing but barges. Truly, I am the only boat; me and 75 barges!

In the Land of the Raising Sun!

What a trip. I've just never imagined anything like it. I was taught that a twenty minute watch was seamanlike for the single-hander, but I was coming from long open water passages. I was used to 45 minute watches. It was only after being surprised by a few freighters that I realized I had to revise my protocol. So I went to the twenty—but even then . . . it wasn't safe, it wasn't right. I was surrounded by freight, not some of the time—but all of the time. It was insane. At times I could see eight tankers around me. Twenty minutes? Bah. It seemed impossible for me to gauge there movements. Recall, if you will, that I am still blind.

It seemed so easy—I could look at their lights and their angles to me, take bearings. I understand it all, god knows I have the experience now. But somehow, I'd come up from below and there'd be a monster tanker passing on starboard—Where did he come from??? I have no answers, only failures. It shouldn't have been so. They simply come on to fast.

I went to ten minute watches. Really that was the best I could do, but it wasn't good enough either. When I had to I stayed up all night and slept more in the daylight. But I was afraid of becoming too tired and over-sleeping my alarms. And then there was the fog. Can you see how utterly untenable this situation was?

My great relief was that I figure I have the best radar reflector going. What I did was take a burlap bag and fill it with empty and crinkled tin cans, then lashed it beneath my spreader. The bent cans provide many angles of reflection and I found that traffic seemed always to be aware of me. This doesn't count fisherman who pay less attention to radar.

In short—Japan is a nightmare for a singlehander. Stay away. Even short-handed sailing (2 people) it will still be tedious—well, no matter how many people. There are so many gill netters (?)—they don't give way. You have to tack around just about everyone. And always in fear of what may be out there. And there is fog.

Yes, yes, radar would be nice. Maybe on your boat.

Avoiding so much marine traffic has been difficult and unlike anything I've experienced. Entering a pass just south of Osaka, in a fog, watching freight coming out of the north and south, waiting on my moment, then watching a current ripping off the west edge of island, having the wind luff. . . I have never needed my wits about me as then. I turned off, circled about until the wind freshened, found a gap, and then ran it.

No problem, but the stress. . . good lord.

In the times I was becalmed I got some rest, dried some clothes, played the guitar. It could be peaceful and beautiful. The weather was never terrible, just always upwind, a bit of rain and fog, some fresh breezes. The current off the south of Japan (the cape I spoke of) with a SW wind, which there was all of a 5% chance of, kept me from Osaka. I had planned my route for the Nor'easter that always blows as a rule, as it had for the last two weeks. But no. Current and wind against, I eased the sheets and made for Nagoya, a city I had never heard of.

I made it and found the people so hospitable I can't describe. I was taken out to eat by different people each day—each nearly offended when I attempted to pay. My favorite was a guy named Hamano, who was working on a boat near me. He spoke NO English. As I worked he brought me a coffee, smiled, bowed, and walked away.

Later, when the marina wanted to move my boat and subsequently wrecked my windvane, it was Hamano who helped me fix it. At first I was quasi-assumed he worked for the marina, as we were using their facilities, but then I realized he didn't. The marina staff were young and inexperienced. Me and Hamano went to work and got the job done quick—but what of his work? He spent an entire morning working with me. So I decided I would treat him to lunch. He gave the 'lets eat' sign and I nodded. We went to a joint and I made it clear I was to buy him lunch. He laughed.

He ardently refused. We ate. He bought. Actually, I was almost offended. This guy spent half his day working on my windvane and wouldn't allow me to buy his lunch. What a bastard!

He didn't even try to speak English, didn't care. I had gotten so used to using the notepad to draw pictures for people in an attempt to communicate. Hamano and I just sat. We didn't talk. It didn't matter. It was very comfortable and nice. I'd make jokes now and again to make us laugh, but really, we were often quiet.

Later when I was leaving, my friend Yokota said he should tow me back out of Yokkaichi (the town I was now in), as the marina was landlocked, I was delighted when I saw that he intended to go with Hamano and his fishing boat. As was his way, when I got to my boat he had the lines run and was ready to go. Apparently, I had no choice in the matter. Hamano smiled.

Yokota and Kato were also hard to leave. Kato actually started crying when the windvane got mangled, he was so sorry. He was 23, very nice, spoke just a little English. He would call an English-speaking friend to translate for us which helped me immensely. He informed me that the marinas in Japan are over $1000/ month. As it turns out, I think he was wrong.

This changes all of my plans. What to do with my boat?? Obviously marinas are impossible. That is 3x the US rate I am used to. (The cheap ones.)

But maybe not. I just talked to a yacht club this afternoon who offered slips for $350—that would be ideal. How is that possible? That is not anything like $1000!

It is interesting being on my own, not having Brian, Herb or Jason and Laurel just an anchor away. I have been so focused, I haven't really noticed. Funny, since turning away from Torres Strait, everything has changed, and then changed continually. Each plan fails and leads on to another. And days run by and I don't know where I am going. But somehow it is all fine, and fun, and exciting and I am forever getting closer to where it is I am going. I feel it even though I don't know what or where that is.

But it is so important what I have learned. I am so thankful that I pulled through. This is without question the most perilous sailing I've encountered. I was hardly up for it. I'm not sure I wasn't just lucky. My judgment was often suspect.

But I was vigilant. I am proud of that. I was calm and never upset. And I turned off and waited when the risk warranted caution. In these things I am proud.

Of my ability to negotiate ships I am ashamed; of my slowness in changing my watch schedule I am ashamed, of my preparedness for Japan as a whole I am ashamed, and my rush to arrive here.

Yet here I am, anchored in the most bizarre of places, surrounded by barges. People may not like it. But here I am. Yesterday I stayed aboard, drank coffee and watched dinghy races. It felt good . . .

In the Land of the Rising Sun!

13 October, 2007


I made it safe, at least.  VHF died, depth sounder died, the wind was perpetually on the nose, but it was fine.   Didn:t make Osaka, an utterly unpredictable wind shift and three knot current convenced me to change course for Nagoya.   But this won:t do so I will leave soon for the inland sea west of Osaka and look for nice bays to anchor and meet people and find a spot to hole up.
Must run.   Expensive internet.